Tight race as rivals eye top seat in Taita-Taveta

Governor John Mruttu’s resignation from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and going the independent route has opened the door for a bruising race for Taita Taveta’s top seat.

Nine candidates will be on the ballot in a bid to win the seat.

Mr Mruttu is the only governor in the coast region to lose in the primaries.

He lost to Wundanyi MP Thomas Ludindi Mwadeghu.

Apart from the two, others who want to replace Mr Mruttu are Mr Granton Graham Samboja, (Wiper), Mr Danson Mwakulegwa Mwazo (Jubilee), Ms Jacinta Wanjala Mwatela (Amani National Congress) and Mr Constantine Maghanga Mwadime (Maendeleo Chap Chap).

Other independents are Mr Emmanuel Mwatibo Kisombe, Mr Jared Nzano and Mr Erastus Mwanjama Katani.

After what looked like the end of the road for Mr Mruttu when the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal and the High Court ruled in favour of Mr Mwadeghu, the governor registered as an independent.

The ethnic mathematics in Taita-Taveta does not rule out Mr Mruttu, despite his being a Taveta.

Analysts say Mr Mruttu’s chances of emerging winner could have been boosted by the entry in the race of several strong candidates from among the majority Taita.

Taitas in the race are Mr Mwadeghu, Mr Mwazo, Mr Samboja, Ms Mwatela and Mr Maghanga.

“No one should rule out Mr Mruttu. The Taveta may vote for him….the Taita vote could be divided,” Mr Wellington Mwakulomba, a Wundanyi resident, said.

And then there is the Kamba vote, particularly concentrated in Taveta.

Compared to his opponents, it is easier for Mr Mruttu to marshal the Kamba vote.

Challenges facing local residents include the squatter problem, human-wildlife conflict, water shortage, boundary rows with Kwale, Makueni and Kajiado counties, poor health and education standards as well as high unemployment.

Others are poor roads, poverty, drug abuse, gender violence and food insecurity.

“We have made great strides despite financial constraints. Key areas of the economy like education, health, roads, water, mining and agriculture have been revamped to spur growth in our once-marginalised county,” Mr Mruttu said in a recent interview with the Nation in his Wundanyi office.

Mr Samboja is credited with water projects in Taita-Taveta.

He is the brains behind the Sh42 billion Mzima II pipeline, which he successfully negotiated for when he was the Coast Water Services Board chairman.

Mr Mwazo, the outgoing senator, who recently ditched ODM for Jubilee, said he had joined the winning team “to ensure locals are part of government”.

He is credited with establishing schools when he served as Voi MP between 2007 and 2013.

Wundanyi residents say Mr Mwadeghu utilised the Constituency Development Fund well and sponsored many students.

He is also credited with initiating projects geared towards uplifting the standards of constituents.

Mrs Mwatela is trying her luck for the top county position for the second time after narrowly losing to Mr Mruttu in 2013.

She faces an uphill task battling five senior politicians but says she is not bothered or scared.

“I come from a family of many men. At CBK, I was the only senior woman manager and was equally or more effective than the male managers.

“Competing with male politicians therefore, least worries me because I have done it before,” she said in a recent telephone interview.

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